NYMF Love Sucks: Punk's Labors Lost

Caution: This article contains adult language, conducive with the show's subject-matter

Harley Granville-Baker said, in 1924, that Shakespeare's Love's Labors Lost "is a fashionable play; now, by 300 years, out of fashion." An attempt by no lesser a Shakespearean personage than Kenneth Branagh to movie-musicalize it in 2000 (using preexisting songs from 1930s musicals) was met with general apathy.

But never mind the bollocks, here's Love Sucks!  Brandon Patton and Stephen O'Rourke have defied the odds and turned the story into a hilarious night in the theatre.  This is achieved mainly by simplification- none of Shakespeare's overly-intellectual language is used, the setting is updated all the way to 1976 in New York, and the story elements are stripped to their bare bones.

The plot: Big Joe (Nicholas Webber), lead singer of a punk band called The Molotovs (Rob Marnell, Andrew M. Ross, and Jason Wooten as Pud, Sid, and Johnny) is annoyed that his bandmates are taking love more seriously than the band- girlfriends always take too much time, and when A Battle of the Bands is coming up, Big Joe lays down the law- no girlfriends or they're out of the band.  Unlike Shakespeare's students, they don't have to abjure the company of maidens entirely: They can have sex three times with one woman before she turns into a girlfriend ("No More Girlfriends").  Though Johnny demurs at first, they all agree.

Across town, The Guttersnipes, an all-female punk band (Caryn Havlik, Heather Robb, and Athena Reich as Deb, Kate, and Tina), has made the same no-boyfriends pledge for exactly the same reasons, at the instigation of their leader Patti (Rebecca Hart) ("Three Hits").

The two bands meet at rock club The Cesspool, and they tie in the battle of the bands.  The assistant of a famous record producer is impressed by both the acts and wants to bring the producer back to hear them both another time.

Big Joe and Patti are jealous of each other, but the other members of the band pair off and fall in love.  Kate and Johnny take it too far, sleep with each other four times, and after singing the hilarious acoustic "That's All I Need", both are kicked out of their respective bands.

The other band members decide that what Patti and Big Joe need is each other, and set about setting them up in two songs "Lovesick" and the hilarious "Patti Likes Guys", setting themselves so Patti and Big Joe can conveniently overhear that the other one is in love.  It works and the two hardasses melt in each others arms after some hilarious attempts at normal flirting.  Their bands keep tabs on them ("They Did it Now") until they realize they've broken their own rule and had sex four times ("Fuck Fuck Fuck").  They call both bands together, reinstate Kate and Johnny, and nearly form one big band ("Love Ain't so Bad") until band politics drives them all apart, both as bandmates and lovers, just in time for them to compete for the coveted record contract.

Stephen O'Rourke's book sparkles with gritty comedy and well-observed characters, and Brandon Patton's music is punk as fuck, perfectly capturing the balls-to-the-wall tone required.  They share lyric duty, and the lyrics are perfect- when they can be heard.  A problem with the play is that the music rocks so hard it's sometimes difficult to understand the words.  While that's not a problem with ordinary punk rock, for the songs to work as musical comedy numbers it's important to hear the words.  Microphone issues added to the hearing problem at times, and I thought it odd that the actors had lavaliere mikes and mikes on stands, both of which were functional.  I understood most of the lyrics, but other friends had trouble hearing.  

My friend who came with me didn't care for the show as much as I did, though it was largely due to genre bias, as he just doesn't like punk rock.

The cast is incredible- all sing their asses off, and play their own instruments as members of each band.  Plus they can act, too- they're hilarious.  Not mentioned till now are the very talented Kim Gatewood, who plays a multitude of female roles (thanks to costuming & wigs, she's completely unrecognizable from role to role. Emilia Dombrowski on costumes and Erin Kennedy Lunsford on hair and makeup; and Debargo Sanyal, who plays a bunch of male roles (and is very funny as all of them).

If you want to rock out and have a good time... go, go, go; but leave the fuddy-duddies at home- this show is best when played loud.

Love Sucks at The Julia Miles Theater (424 W. 55th Street, between 9th and 10th Ave). Remaining shows: Saturday, Oct 6 at 4:30PM & 8PM.

Pictures by Stuart Rakley: Nicholas Webber as Big Joe and Rebecca Hart as Patti; Athena Reich as Tina, Rebecca Hart as Patti, Caryn Havlik as Deb and Heather Robb as Kate; Andrew M. Ross as Sid, Nicholas Webber as Big Joe, Robert Andrew Marnell as Pud, and Jason Wooten as Johnny

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Duncan Pflaster Duncan Pflaster is an award-winning playwright whose plays have been produced all over. He also has been known to direct, write music, play the ukulele, and (if his arm is twisted) act. He won second place in the 2009 Stage and Cinema's New York City Theater Review Contest. www.duncanpflaster.com


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